Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Red Wheat Citrus Bomb: Update Picture & Notes

I think the above picture speaks pretty nicely for itself. Such a pretty beer. For those that did not see my original process post regarding this brew, you can certainly click back to the original post if you like. The recipe is listed below:

Approximately 9lbs White Wheat (in the brown bag, approx. because it hit 9lbs and added a little more)

.5oz Galena @60min
1oz Citra @10min
1oz Citra @5min
1oz Citra @0min

US-05 lazy-mode (dry pitch, OG was 1.042, FG 1.010)

Whirlfloc @ ~10mins <-- only clarifying aside from time in the bottle

5 Oranges, 4 Lemons, 2 Grapefruits zested and added @5mins.

Two beets, sliced and blended thoroughly with approximately 4 cups of water. Strained solids out and added with the zest.

This is an easy drinker. So much so that it's almost gone! I brewed it on June 4th and I may need to do it again soon. It's more of a Citra bomb than Citrus bomb, but I am not at all opposed to this. If/when I do brew it again I'll probably cut the 10min addition in half. Or not. May just do it as is again, because I'm enjoying the hell out of it and so has everyone thats tried it so far.

There is a smooth bitterness from the Galena that - I think - is quite nice when paired with the amount of zest and Citra hops added. I definitely taste grapefruit from the Citra. The grapefruit zest is probably there too but it blends in too much with the hop flavors. I can detect the orange and lemon zests, but it does take some effort with the overwhelming Citra presence, but I enjoy that as well anyway.

I am holding some in reserve for two reasons. One, someone I know from reddit/his blog may be in the bay area in the near future and expressed interest in trying it/review it on his blog. Two, one person (maybe two?) on reddit expressed concern that it may turn brown with time. So far so good, still a beautiful beer, but I suppose since time is the only thing that will really tell I'll just have to wait it out.

At any rate, I noticed that while I had posted my process and a picture of the beer in a hydrometer tube, I had not posted the finished product here. So here we have it! The Red Wheat Citrus Bomb in all its glory!

Making Use of Your Fresh Fruit: Infusions

It is a bit of a romantic image. Show up at a Polish man's house, where he pulls out a bottle of homemade vodka and serves you a glass.This image is not gone. It is, however, a bit different than the western vision of vodka in Eastern Europe. Here, clear vodkas are cheap, good, and readily available. The term vodka has broader use, however. It includes such things as whiskeys, brandies, and flavored vodkas that do not resemble their distance cousins on Western shelves. Also, it can be used for something homemade by the average person, without the assistance of a still.

Here in Poland there is a tradition of making nalewka. The most appropriate translation for this is tincture. Brewers know this term from using vodka to create tinctures to add to their brews to enhance it with flavors that would otherwise ferment out. Here in Poland, the same tinctures are served as their own drinks. Many Poles pride themselves on their homemade tinctures, often keeping their unique recipes to themselves. Commercial offerings try to capture this tradition and you can find both cheap and expensive options in liquor stores and premium food stores.

The best method, as always, is doing it yourself at home. It is a great method for getting value out of your fruit that may otherwise have gone unused. Mirabelle plums (shown below) are not eaten often, and usually used either in alcohols or jams. Slicing them up and throwing them in a jar will extract the flavor, which can be brought back out by adding sugars. Tinctures are best made with higher quality vodka or rectified spirits (up to 99% concentration). They will enhance the flavor of cheap vodka for those who want to, but can make remarkable drinks if good quality ingredients are used.

When you've finished making a tincture by soaking your fruit, you can strain the solids out either using a strainer, cheesecloth, or sometimes coffee filters. I've had issues with coffee filters clogging, and tend to use a metal strainer for ease. My mission fig tincture (shown below) turned into one of my best liqueurs and was strained through a cheesecloth (which continuously clogged).

After straining fully and adding in syrups, most people put it back into the bottles that the vodka/spirits came out of (as below).

I often try to repurpose swing-top clear bottles from products that I would readily buy. Below is a kwas that I purchased to drink, which came in a beautiful bottle. I also buy my olive oil exclusively in such bottles
to store my tinctures.

Spices can be added in to syrups. I tend to enjoy the unaltered flavors of the fruit and use simple syrup to enhance their flavor without adding in anything but sweetness. Infusions can have variety limited only by your creativity and available ingredients. A common liqueur here is made by heating a porter (yes, the beer) with sugar and spices (vanilla predominantly) and adding it 2:1 or 1:1 with vodka. My liquor cabinet is slowly becoming dominated by them. Currently I have bottles of dried fig, quince, porter, sweet gold cherry, and sour glass cherry nalewki (plural of nalewka). I'm infusing vodka to add Mirabelle plums to this collection. I also have a cranberry commercially made nalewka, and caramel and black lotus nalewki from others. Additionally, I have a few bottles of vodkas commercially available that are flavored (quince, quince, and hazelnut) which are similar to homemade liqueurs but not labelled as nalewka. 

As a nice aside (or replacement for some) to brewing beer, this is a great way to experiment and make something to drink which you can call yours.

Saturday, July 19, 2014

Brewing + Saving Money

I've seen this topic come up repeatedly. Let me first state this: Barring equipment, you will probably save money per beer. Yes. But if you factor in equipment and amortize it, you'll soon realize that it will take quite a while (with nothing breaking/upgrading) to truly save money.

To really drive this point home, let's look some hypothetical numbers here.
Equipment cost, we'll say $500 as a good mid-range guesstimate.
If you 5 gallon batch of beer costs $25 in ingredients (low end) and you get (for ease of calculations sake, we'll say) 50 bottles.

So the goal is to "save" $500. Cost per beer at this rate is assumed 50 cents per beer. That's a thousand beers before you hit the amount of beers brewed to equal the initial investment in equipment. As long as you don't break anything. Or find a new toy. Or upgrade. Or brew bigger more expensive batches...

But this isn't actually saving anything. To quantify an amount saved you would need to show that you reduced expenditures on other things like buying beers. It would require considering so many variables to truly show any kind of savings that it is far easier to simply limit waste rather than try to save money. I would say the same is true of any hobby, frankly.

I'm not saying it can not be done. If your objective is purely to save money, it can be done. It just isn't pretty, and likely isn't as "optimal" for creating truly good beer. I'm not here to debate whether or not it can be done, I fully recognize that it can be done. I'm just not of the belief that it's the way to make the best beer possible. I will not debate this matter, as it is a matter of opinion more than fact as taste is subjective. But that is how I see it.

Now that said, there is a significant difference between not saving money, and wasting money. Some examples of waste that come to mind:

1) Buying a kettle that is simply too small.

I kinda did that, but because of my friend Bret and his wanting a mash tun cooler along with a deal from NorthernBrewer.com the purchase of a larger kettle is no longer necessary. My current 9gal kettle is sufficient for a HLT and BK (Hot Liquor Tank, fancy way to say pot that hold water as it heats. BK = Boil kettle) as I do five gallon batches. Saved money by not buying a bigger kettle at this point and instead investing into a cooler mash tun with Bret. Hazzah!

But this is one of the biggest things I've seen personally. People get into homebrewing, and they get some equipment. Maybe a 5 gallon pot, because for extract partial boil recipes, you don't need bigger. But then you want to do a full boil at 5gals? Nope. Gonna need bigger. So maybe you get a 7gal. Cool. Then you want to do BIAB? Sorry, gonna need more room for the grain! See how that keeps adding up?

There is nothing wrong with getting a bigger kettle to start. Frankly, if you're getting into the hobby you really really should invest in a 10gal kettle at least. Go for 15 if you have any inkling about doing BIAB in the future (or if you're going to start that way).

The cost difference between a 9gal and 15gal kettle can be as little as $20. Don't skimp on something like this, especially if you would like to brew "big" (high ABV) beers all grain.

2) Reusing yeast.

This is a huge one in my personal opinion. It's a very simple concept, and while a lot of people do this, not a lot of people start off aware that they can do it and how simple it is to do.

I could do my own write up of this, but there is no need. Brulosophy yeast harvesting method.

Yeast will cost anywhere from $2.99 to $7 (or more)  per batch. Not a lot, right? But if you could reduce that... why wouldn't you?

Consider this: Cost of ~12lbs of grain, say $21 (assuming buying per batch, not bulk). Plus hops, probably another $3-4 depending on style/hoppiness (easily more than $3-4 but I'm not a hop head so I stick to that) so you're at say $25. Then yeast. If you spend $7 on the yeast, you're at $32 for the batch instead of $25. This is a significant expenditure.

I'm guilty of not doing this due to laziness. I've seen the light, and this problem is one of the past for me personally. Is it for you? Because it should be a problem of the past. It's too easy not to do, and the savings are 100% real. You don't need fancy equipment, you can do a starter however you want to do it. With or without stir plate, etc.

3) Buying empty bottles.

Seriously, there are many, many easy ways to avoid doing this. I admit I did it when I started out, and I don't regret it. I needed bottles at the time and hadn't yet sorted out where my pipeline would come from.

Do you have friends that drink beer? Then you have an immediate source for bottles. Have them save the bottles for you and pick them up as is convenient.

In my case, my brother and one of our good friends pooled bottles for me. Now I have ~200 bottles that I plan to have all full in the near future. At least for a while. Those bottles cost me precisely nothing, unless you count giving my brother and friends beer in exchange for their work. Which I don't count, because those bottles also find their way back to me.

If you don't have friends that drink beer, or for some reason don't feel like talking to local bartenders about holding bottles for you to pick up (another oft cited resource that people forget about), you can also check out recycling centers. Often very cheap bottles to be had there.

The final (and for some, most appealing) option is also the simplest. Buy bottles with beer already in them. I bought 12 packs of this craft beer "sampler pack" from Trader Joes a couple times. The beer itself was pretty tasty, though nothing I'd consider remarkable. But it was $9.99 for a 12 pack of bottles that I could also drink the beer out of before using.

Just remember to get the pry off, not the twist off.

At the end of the day, it's important to remember this simple fact: This is a hobby.

The definition of the word is "an activity done regularly in one's leisure time for pleasure." If you enjoy it, then enjoy it. Everyone has their hobbies. Some people buy clothes, shoes, and makeup because they enjoy it rather than need it, and that would count as a hobby. Others work on their vehicles, some spoil their pets. Some do anything at all on this list, and that shits just crazy. But if it's something they do regularly in their leisure time and enjoy it, it counts. So as long as you can balance your hobby and your daily life and you don't end up overextending financially for the sake of any hobby, just enjoy it for what it is. A hobby.

Friday, July 11, 2014

DIY(ish) Stir Plate.

I really wish I had done this sooner. I got lazy on it, and for some reason convinced myself it would probably be more difficult, etc etc...

Well it isn't hard. In fact, I did it the lazy way. You may be saying "can't be lazy enough for me." Yeah, you're wrong. Here, let me outline the process.

Step 1: Have an amazon account and Prime.
Step 2: Acquire items to assemble. Fan. Flask. Magnets! (you only need two, but I like magnets). Stir bar. Box. - Edit 7/15 @12:03pm: Looks like the box is gone. Just get something of similar dimensions. Mine was 4.7" x 4.7" x 2.2" high. Could be smaller all around but I like this size, easy to work with.

Update 7-12 @3:20pm: The fan is the essential part of this build. Because it is already wired to be powered via USB and has a speed control on it, there is absolutely no wiring to be done. All other parts can be done however you want to, but the fan is the key point to making this DIY as stupidly simple as possible.

Step 3: Assembly. I'm serious when I say this is stupid easy.

The above is it. I have a dremel so I put a hole in the right side near the front to pull the cords through. The speed control I had to cut free from its enclosure, but that was straightforward enough and isn't necessary. You could leave it alone if you want and just not fasten the top to the box so you can easily pop it off since once you dial in the speed, adjusting it isn't very necessary. I used some packing materials I had sitting around to hold the fan still. If you don't, you'll soon realize you need to. Cardboard box I cut up and folded under there as well to raise it up just a tad, though I'm not convinced this is necessary I'm too lazy to remove it since it's all working now.

The single hardest part of this was getting the magnets lined up properly to get it to spin. This is trial and error, but it's not hard.

In all, what you'll need are the materials (or close/equivalent) to the ones in step 2. A way to punch a hole in one side of the box (got a drill?), and misc. packing materials or hell, paper would probably work if wadded up and packed in there to keep the fan from moving. That's it. No wiring to mess with.

This comes out to a bit more expensive than most of the "true DIY" ones that require using a phone charger to power a computer case fan, etc etc. However, it is still considerably cheaper than buying a stir plate pre-made, is (I think) idiot proof (I did it!) and it works.

Quick note on the materials I linked to. The prices fluctuate, and appear to be all higher than what I paid. My total came out to around $38 not including the flask. You can probably source the materials cheaper than that, I just went with the "I want to do this now" mentality when I finally decided to do it. In the end, it came out cheaper than the Stir Starter and is essentially the same exact thing. Plus you get to tinker and make it work yourself, which I personally enjoy.

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fermenter's Favorite from NorthernBrewer

I'm back! This time with a review of the Fermenter’s Favorites Essential All-Grain Brewing Starter Kit-10 Gallon from Northern Brewer

My buddy Bret decided he wanted a mash tun cooler with false bottom, etc etc. But the costs of such a beast were... well, high.
To piece one together out in Poland it'd certainly run him over $100, and this kit comes with two for $200. Well, he doesn't need two! Who does he know that could use one? Hmmm...

So long story short, I waited on it a tad and he waited for a deal to pop up. Sure enough, I'm gettin mine for about $50 and he's in for less than it'd cost to make in Poland. I'll arrange to ship him his, and I get an awesome cooler.

First up, unpacking!

As you can see, two big (purpose built) 11.7gal coolers. The plastic spigot/valve set is inside the cooler in a plastic baggie, which I'll probably set aside and forget about forever. No big deal. In the box balanced between the two there is a false bottom, tubing, couple weldless valve/spigot kits and some misc. other stuff listed on their site. The important thing is, it's all definitely there.

Boxes are fun!

Ayva decided the box is her toy. We'll see how long it holds up to her creative abuse of boxes.

Ok. So the real important part of this as far as the initial setup is the valve, bulkhead, spigot setup. The opening in the cooler is perfect, this thing fits like a glove.

Little teflon tape (provided in the kit) on the threads, put the spigot on, insert in cooler and finish the install from the inside of the cooler. Cool. I thought "hey that was easy. Probably too easy. Let's take it outside and see!"

Well, it was incredibly easy. But not in a bad way at all, as there were zero leaks.

With the leak test so rapidly taken care of, I was able to progress right on to the mash.

This is where the only complaint I have comes in. While the strike water and initial mash temps were 100% where I wanted (166 strike to 156 initial mash temp) it was down at 152 after an hour in. A four degree drop. I had less drop using blankets over my kettle! But I don't really blame the cooler entirely. I had a lot of dead space, and the absolute only place I felt any heat coming off it was the lid. The sides were cold to the touch throughout. The lid is not insulated, but it does screw down. The solution then is fairly straight forward: Insulate the lid. I shall, and I believe this will fix the problem. I'll certainly update next time on that one.

All 'n all, this cooler is an amazing value and frankly made my brew day much more enjoyable. At $200 if you're looking to get into 3 vessel all grain brewing, it is a steal. If $200 is a bit steep, maybe hold out for the next sale. Seriously. These are well made purpose built coolers that may need a bit of insulating in the lid, or just some foil over the mash to reduce the dead space issue. Or just brew more beer to fill up the dead space. Ultimately that one problem is fairly insignificant considering other options, the ease of the DIY fix and the amazingly convenient and easy to assemble product you receive.

Using my five star rating system:
Ease of use/assembly: 5
Temperature stability: 4.5
Awesomeness: 5
Value: 5.

Update 7/14/14: Pre-heated the cooler this time, as well as added a layer of foil over the mash to take care of the dead space. Problem solved. Temp dropped approximately 1F over the course of an hour, which is perfectly acceptable far as I'm concerned.

Updated rating:
Ease of use/assembly: 5
Temperature stability: 5
Awesomeness: 5
Value: 5.

I would highly recommend this setup. Especially if you've got a friend that brews and you can go in on it together. Can't go wrong.